By Matt Harris
The scope of safeguarding in international schools is vast. Every element of the school is impacted and has a role to play in protecting children from serious harm and danger. And as many of us in international education know, safeguarding has been a central focus of reputation, accreditation and operations for several years.
However, few of us entered the profession with an eye towards safeguarding. It has become something we have had to learn and focus upon in our roles as educators. And we have all learned that in the Maslow hierarchy of a school, child protection is fundamental, living both in safety needs and physiological needs.
Yet understanding the full scope of child protection and safeguarding can be quite daunting for schools and school leaders.
Strategic leadership ensures the school uses safeguarding language in communications, builds and maintains a culture of safeguarding, sets policy, allocates resources to safeguarding and child protection, and gives direction to the operational safeguarding leadership.
To help, we have put together an overview of child protection responsibilities for a school.
In this overview, we outline 12 categories schools need to account for in their safeguarding programmes:
- School culture
- Roles and responsibilities
- Student wellbeing
- Personnel oversight
- Environmental security
- Local context and connections
- External resources and services
Schools and school leaders can use these categories as a guide to help foster discussion, personnel needs and resource allocation. Schools that are most effective in their safeguarding programmes have addressed or considered actions for each of these areas.
To fully manage a school’s safeguarding responsibilities requires structured leadership. However, where many schools run into problems with safeguarding leadership comes when the school relies on a single person as the safeguarding leader. A single person cannot effectively lead and manage all the 12 categories listed above.
Instead, schools should consider two complementary elements of safeguarding leadership: strategic and operational.
Strategic safeguarding leadership bears the torch for a school’s commitment to protecting children. Strategic leadership ensures the school uses safeguarding language in communications, builds and maintains a culture of safeguarding, sets policy, allocates resources to safeguarding and child protection, and gives direction to the operational safeguarding leadership.
This strategic leadership should include members of the school community with influence and the ability to make large-scale and long-term decisions, such as the head of school and board members or owners. A visible and effective safeguarding programme is guided by the words, attitudes and actions of this group.
Operational safeguarding leadership takes a different role. If the strategic leadership is responsible for culture and commitment, then operational leadership is responsible for systems and management. Operational leadership manages safeguarding procedures and resources, maintains data and documentation, monitors environmental security and ensures that every member of the school community is adequately trained. They put the protection needs of the children at the forefront by focusing school operations on prevention, intervention and support.
Typically, operational leadership is run by the designated safeguarding lead (DSL) or a similar titled position. The DSL is most effective when they are a senior member of staff who has flexibility in their schedule to address issues as they arise and authority to make decisions. We often see deputy division heads or vice principals take on DSL roles in addition to their core job responsibilities. The amount of time needed to manage safeguarding operations varies from school to school. Some schools will have a full-time DSL and several appointed deputies while others will give release time to a single leader to oversee safeguarding operations.
Here is a guide to the role of the DSL.
Regardless of how a school approaches safeguarding leadership, it is important to separate the strategic and operational roles. At times, the operational leadership will need to focus on functional responsibilities or incident management while the strategic leadership focuses on internal and external relations. When these tasks are handled by a single person, they can be done incorrectly, inefficiently or at conflict with the best interests of the child.
Instead, by clearly defining strategic and operational safeguarding leadership roles in a school and by maintaining clear lines of communication and supervision, the school is best positioned to run a strong safeguarding programme that meets their legal, moral and practical responsibilities to protect children.
Considerations for your school’s safeguarding programme:
- Clearly define strategic and operational safeguarding leadership roles.
- Strategic leadership should include members of the school community with influence, such as head of school or board members.
- The role of strategic leadership is to set policies, allocate resources to safeguarding and child protection, and giving direction to the operational safeguarding leadership.
- Operational leadership is responsible for implementation and management of the child safeguarding policies and systems.
Matt Harris, Ed.D. is the Co-Founder and CEO of ChildSafeguarding.com. ChildSafeguarding.com offers multilingual child protection training for all members of the school community, including teachers, support staff, volunteers, and parents.